This is going to be very obscure, technical and humourless1, so unless you suspect your environment-set http proxy is messing with your python, you can stop reading now.

This is actually two problems, and three solutions.

Problem 1

My python script bombs out with:

File "c:\Python23\lib\", line 506, in proxy_open
    if '@' in host:
TypeError: iterable argument required

Solution 1

Your http_proxy environment variable must include http:// at the start.

Problem 2

But why’s it happening in the first place? I’m not even using the environment-set proxy – I’m defining my own, thus:

proxy_handler = urllib2.ProxyHandler({'http': ''})
opener = urllib2.build_opener()

Solution 2

Ah! But urllib2.build_opener() has a set of default handlers, one of which is a proxy handler. Guess what the default behaviour of the proxy handler is, when you don’t give it a proxy url? It gets it from the environment.

So you’re ending up with two proxy handlers. The default one gleaned from the environment, and your custom one. It seems that it only uses the custom one (try it using Wireshark) but it still processes the environment one. So if the format of the environment one is wrong, it breaks your script. This is a bit unpredictable and brittle, so try this instead:

proxy_handler = urllib2.ProxyHandler({'http': ''})
opener = urllib2.build_opener(proxy_handler)

That will give you one and only one proxy handler.

[Updated 03/03/2008 to add]

To get no proxies – i.e. to disable proxies, do this:

proxy_support = urllib2.ProxyHandler({})
opener = urllib2.build_opener(proxy_support)
urllib2.install_opener(opener)    # Optional - makes this opener default for urlopen etc.

Solution to end all solutions

I tried this on Python 2.5 and it exhibited none of these problems. I’ve looked at the new urllib2 code which has much more detailed and careful proxy url parsing, allowing a more liberal approach to defining proxies.

[Updated 09/03/2010 to add]

Ciprian Trofin has emailed me to point out that while the parsing of proxy urls in environment variables improved in Python 2.5, the build_opener still uses default handlers, and gets its proxy from the environment, when none is specified. This is the case with Python 2.6 – I guess it’s an awkward feature, not actually a bug. Thanks to Ciprian for the update and clarification!

  1. Okay – we’re done. You can look at funny things now. ↩︎